Four Dimensions of Relational Work
Matching Tasks to Interpersonal Skills
You've just finished a phone call with a potential client, and she's agreed to a face-to-face sales meeting with someone at your company.
But who is the right person to send to this important meeting? You have two possibilities: first, there's Joe, who loves to talk and has lots of friends at work. He's definitely a "people person." Then there's Amy, who is quieter and always seems to be able to sense the emotional needs of others. She's not as outgoing as Joe, but she's far more intuitive.
The right choice – or wrong choice – could mean winning or losing this important deal.
Many managers face situations like this on a regular basis. Interpersonal skills are critical for keeping your team members motivated and getting them to do their best work. With good use of interpersonal skills, you can increase your team's happiness and engagement in what they're doing, and improve your organization's productivity.
The idea of the "Four Dimensions of Relational Work" can help you match team members' natural aptitudes and skills to specific tasks or projects. In this article, we'll explore how best to use this model to build your team and assign tasks and projects to the people able to do the best job.
What Are the Four Dimensions?
The four dimensions were identified by Timothy Butler, Director of Career Development Programs at Harvard Business School, and James Waldroop, a founding principal of the consulting firm Peregrine Partners.
Butler and Waldroop analyzed the psychological tests of over 7,000 business professionals and published their findings in their 2004 article, "Understanding 'People' People." According to their findings, the Four Dimensions of Relational Work are:
- Interpersonal facilitation.
- Relational creativity.
- Team leadership.
Many of us are strong in at least one of these areas – but we may be strong in several areas, or in none of them.
It's not relevant which area is stronger. What is relevant is that if we, or our team members, have a strength in one area, we should try to match their work to that strength.
Butler and Waldroop argue that a good match will make both the manager and the team happier, because everyone will be using their natural strengths. This should also improve the team's performance and productivity.
Let's examine each of the Four Dimensions in greater detail:
People who are strong in this dimension enjoy being able to influence others. They're great at negotiating and persuading, and they love having knowledge and ideas that they can share. Influencers are also good at creating networks: they excel at making strategic friendships and connections.
Influencers don't always have to be in a sales role to use this strength effectively. Perhaps a team member always seems able to "lift" tired colleagues. Or maybe a manager can be relied on to persuade clients to give his team a little more time on a deadline. Both are effective influencers.
2. Interpersonal Facilitation
Team members who are strong in this area are often "behind the scenes" workers. They're good at sensing people's emotions and motivations. They're also skilled at helping others cope with emotional issues and conflict.
For instance, if you suspect that someone you're dealing with has a "hidden agenda" during group meetings, then you may need to ask for help from someone on your team who is strong in interpersonal facilitation. A person with strong intuition will likely have some insight into what is motivating this other team member.
3. Relational Creativity
People who are strong in this dimension are masters at using pictures and words to create emotion, build relationships, or motivate others to act.
Remember that relational creativity is different from influencing. Influencing involves person-to-person interaction, while relational creativity occurs from a distance. An example is a corporate copywriter who writes such a moving speech that the CEO is able to inspire the entire company to meet an aggressive deadline.
4. Team Leadership
Team members who are strong in team leadership succeed through their interactions with others.
This area also might sound like the influencing dimension, but there's an important difference. Influencers thrive on the end result and the role they play in closing a deal. But team leaders thrive on working through other people to accomplish goals, and they're more interested in the people and processes necessary to reach the goal.
You can also apply the Four Dimensions of Relational Work to yourself when thinking about your own career development. For example, if you're strong in interpersonal facilitation, you may decide to pursue a career that uses that strength.
Assessing the Four Dimensions
It's generally easy to evaluate technical skills when you're recruiting or reviewing a team member's work history. However, identifying someone's interpersonal skills and strengths takes more effort.
Use the following tips to help you to assess your current team members, or to ensure that you're hiring the right person for a position.
- Listen carefully – For example, when you ask a job candidate to explain the best moment at her last job, listen closely. If she talks about when she influenced a key decision, she might be strong in the influence dimension. Remember, influencers love to impact and shape decisions, so also try to find out if she's ever served on a committee or executive board.
- Structure your conversation around a specific skill – For instance, if you need to find a new team member who is strong in interpersonal facilitation, then structure your interview or performance appraisal around that skill. Ask the candidate to describe how he would resolve a conflict between two other colleagues. You could even try role playing.
- Ask when the person experiences "flow" – Finding someone skilled at relational creativity can be difficult. This is because someone may be strong in this area, but has never had a job, project, or task that used this strength. Ask your team member or candidate to describe a time when she experienced flow. If her task at that time was creative, she might be strong in relational creativity.
- Notice how the person makes you feel – It's often easy to identify a person skilled in team leadership, even if he has never held a management position. Pay attention to how you feel when talking to this person, and how that person interacts with other members of his team. If he gets people excited and motivated about their work, or about the opportunities that the organization faces, then he might excel at team leadership.
Rewarding Your Team
As well as using the four dimensions to build your team, and assign tasks and projects to the most appropriate people, you can also use the model to reward your team effectively. Relational work is often ignored or undervalued. But these interpersonal traits are what make the organization function effectively.
It's important to compensate your team members for these skills, because the more they're rewarded, the more they'll use those skills.
Start by educating your team members about their own dimension. You could do this in informal, one-on-one conversations or during their performance appraisals. Try to connect some type of compensation to their skill, and make sure they understand that they'll be rewarded for using their strengths.
You can also reward team members by giving them work that uses their strength. This may require you to create a new role, or mean simply reshaping the role that a person has now. It doesn't have to be a huge change; adding tasks or projects that use people's strengths can influence dramatically how satisfied they are with their jobs – and with the organization.
To help ensure balance, try to structure your teams so that all four dimensions are represented by someone. (Of course, this may not be a suitable approach for all teams - so use your best judgment.)
When you look for people to fill each dimension, don't make decisions based on job titles, because team members may not currently be in roles or positions that use their strengths.
The Four Dimensions of Relational Work can help you understand team members' interpersonal strengths, as well as your own strengths. The four dimensions are influence, interpersonal facilitation, relational creativity, and team leadership.
Matching people's strongest dimensions with the work they do benefits everyone. When you and your team are using your strengths, you're all more satisfied and excited about what you're doing – and your organization benefits from improved productivity and engagement.
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